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Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots, took part in National Football League labor talks in Minneapolis Thursday. He and three other NFL team owners met with player representatives as part of court-ordered mediation to try to come to a collective bargaining agreement.
WBUR’s Curt Nickisch joined WBUR's Deborah Becker during All Things Considered to discuss the negotiations and what's at stake.
Deborah Becker: This week marks one month since the league locked out its players. There were talks after that that didn’t go anywhere. So what’s different this round?
Curt Nickisch: These talks are different because there’s more legal pressure to bring the two sides together. The players had asked a federal court to declare that the lockout is invalid. And while the judge is looking at that, she ordered the two sides to sit back down together. And that’s what Kraft and others did Thursday.
Remind us what’s at stake here.
Billions of dollars. The league is doing great revenue-wise, and essentially these talks are about splitting a growing pie that’s got a lot of whipped cream on top. Players want a bigger piece, so do the owners. I talked with Ron Washburn, who's from Brookline and teaches sports law at Bryant University. He told me both sides know that the pie they're splitting disappears if they don't play.
I definitely think we will see a deal. The amount of money on the table I think is just too extensive. Neither side is going to leave that kind of money on the table. I just think it would be ludicrous to even contemplate the fact that they would do that.
Now there are tons of specifics, how much money should go to stars versus everyday players? Will the league set aside money to care for player health problems in the future? NFL labor contracts are complicated, but in the end it’s about divvying up the money.
Kraft has been criticized for not being more involved to date. He joined Gov. Deval Patrick on an international trade mission rather than participate in last month’s negotiations. But he’s at the table now. Could this be a sign that a deal could be reached in this mediation?
You’re right that it is a positive sign that Kraft is negotiating. He’s maybe the most respected owner. But Washburn says don't hold your breath for a deal.
I think right now, they’re jockeying for position. There are so many facets of things going on here, that we’re still looking at a little while before anything happens.
By that he means a few more months at least. There’s a reason that many labor deals are finally struck at the 11th hour. People will drag their feet if they can get a better deal by wringing it out until the deadline. Washburn thinks we’re just not there yet.
Where are the Patriots' players in all this?
A lot of folks know that Tom Brady lent his name to the lawsuit: It's Brady, et al v. the NFL. But the Patriots player who's really been fighting it out in the trenches, just like on the field, has been offensive lineman Matt Light. He's been very vocal.
If prolonged talks are a reality, how is the Patriots franchise been dealing with that? What has the team been doing in the meantime?
Besides the fact that players aren’t training, the team staff has been doing business as usual. Some other teams have laid people off, but not the Patriots. Their message is the season’s going to happen and they’ve got work to do. One sign of this: the NFL released its preseason schedule this week. The Pats even held a press conference Thursday to talk about the draft that starts two weeks from now. So their actions point to a signed deal later this summer — just not before there’s been a good, hard tug-of-war over the money first.
This program aired on April 14, 2011.
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